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Keep Food and Family Safe During Power Outage from Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy, Food Safety

Hurricane Sandy touched an estimated 60 million people in the past couple of days in its path from North Carolina to New England. In all, an estimated 7.5 million people lost power, and in some areas, it could be days before it is restored. During this time, keeping food safe is crucial to staying healthy as the cities and towns across the Eastern part of the United States get back to normal activities.

Hopefully, if you were in the path of the SuperStorm, you have provisions on hand, such as bottled water, non-perishable foods, a cooler with ice or ice packs, a food thermometer, and a non-electric can opener. But you still may have a full refrigerator and freezer to contend with.

The first rule of thumb is to keep the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours with the door shut and a full freezer, about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). Move all food to be eaten first to the front (or to a cooler packed in ice if you have prepared ahead of time), and push more perishable foods, such as milk and eggs, to the back of the fridge or over to the freezer. Remember that the food in the door of the refrigerator will warm more quickly. In the freezer, pack foods together tightly, which will help them stay cold longer.

An appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer will help to determine if food is safe while the power is out. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and the freezer should be 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

"Keeping food at safe storage temperatures in a power outage and away from flood waters is crucial to avoiding foodborne illness in weather emergencies," said U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for food safety Elisabeth Hagen in a news release.
Hopefully, you are not in a location that has been hit by flood waters, but if you are, do not eat food that has been in contact with potentially-contaminated seawater. Throw away any foods not in waterproof containers (ie, “those with screw caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped cans”) Foods commercially canned in metal or in retort pouches can be wiped off and rinsed.

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Wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils as well if they have come into contact with flood water. Use hot soapy water and sanitize the item by boiling it in clean water or immersing it in a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water for 15 minutes.

If you must cook foods, be safe and do not use products indoors that produce carbon monoxide, an odorless gas generated when natural gas, gasoline, coal and other fuels are burned. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of death after a hurricane has left an area without power. For example, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 10 people died in Alabama and Texas due to carbon monoxide gas. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, 13 deaths were attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.

If using a grill or gas stove to cook foods, be sure to do it outside or in a well-ventilated area. Ensure that a carbon monoxide detector is working properly in the home. Do not run a car inside the garage to use as a power source, and do not heat your home with a gas oven, cautions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Water is an essential nutrient – even more important than food. Again, if you are in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, hopefully you have taken precautions and stocked up on bottled water for each member of your family. But if you have not, or if you run out, boil regular tap water for one minute before storing it in a clean container. If you cannot boil water, the USDA advises disinfecting it using household bleach which will kill some (but not all) types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. One-eighth of a teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular unscented liquid household bleach for each gallon of water is recommended. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using it.

When the power is restored, check the temperature of all perishable foods (meats, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers) individually, and throw out those that are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Never taste a food to determine if it is safe, and “When in doubt, throw it out.”
Emaxhealth.com sends prayers and best wishes to all of those affected by Hurricane Sandy this week.

If you need more information, The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service offers “A Consumer's Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” that can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage.

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